Citizen experience has been a focus of federal agencies since being named a cross-agency priority in 2011, when agencies were asked to develop customer service plans. It remained part of the President’s Management Agenda in 2018. Then, as with so many other modernization initiatives, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic kicked the digitization of citizen service into an accelerated gear. Yet work on ensuring that the government “by the people, for the people” is being responsive to modern customer service needs is by no means complete.
As with any new administration, there are an array of new programs on the horizon. With the societal challenges we face today, we can expect an even more rapid deployment of such programs to help spur economic recovery, respond to inequality, and improve public health management. These programs will need support from agencies across the government. How can organizations begin preparing to meet not just the citizen service needs of today but also those of the future? The answer is a healthy combination of people, processes and technology.
Virtual scalability with real people
In March 2020, the Small Business Administration needed to staff up quickly to meet the incoming demand for services as they related to the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, put in place to help stabilize the economy. The SBA needed thousands of new customer service agents to meet demand. Knowing they could not hire this workforce internally, SBA sought contractor support.
The reach of this virtual, scalable team allowed demand to be met, so business owners in need could quickly connect with someone for assistance. As time went on, the volume fluctuated greatly. The team was able to handle these peaks with metrics consistent with those on slower days in terms of speed to answer, call time, and satisfaction. This was due to the flexibility afforded by a virtual model. The SBA could reach into a pool of qualified and call-ready representatives when they needed to meet high volumes, and similarly, quickly scale back when call volume slowed.
The fluidity in staffing levels was matched by the flexibility where people were sourced. The use of virtual support enables quick ramp-ups because it opens up the recruiting pool across the U.S. Organizations are not bound to recruiting within a geographic area, accessing the right talent for the job, regardless of location.
Learning designed for speed and proficiency
Getting the sheer number of people needed to meet contact center needs is only part of the solution: Those people then need to be trained. The key to onboarding thousands of agents quickly is having an effective learning strategy in place. Ideally, this is a mix of instructor-led and on-demand training to meet the learning needs and preferences of the agents. In the case of SBA, the short ramp-up period required rapid development of an e-learning curriculum and on-the-job reference materials from scratch that allowed agents to be call-ready within days.
This kind of online learning can also be created from existing training, taking traditional classroom curriculum and turning it into a self-paced learning environment that agents could do at any time. A self-paced curriculum should include gamification elements to keep learners motivated and processing at the pace needed to meet staffing goals. Additionally, it is critical that comprehension of the materials is measured for proficiency and reported before allowing customer interactions. After onboarding, on-demand resources also allow for ongoing learning, with agents being able to go back and refresh their knowledge at any time.
Beyond these self-driven materials, building a community among agents is also critical. Organizations should find ways to help people reach out to colleagues to answer questions, discuss current challenges, and learn from more experienced agents for ongoing learning and support. A successful virtual community cultivates engagement, allowing agents to build and nurture relationships in a remote setting.
Building the toolbox
Better citizen experience starts with a better employee experience. Whether agents are working in a brick-and- mortar center or virtually, they need to have systems that make their job easier. Organizations need to ensure they have the right tools in place to empower agents to carry out the mission. Some key technology investments include:
Call management software with single sign-on capabilities — agents should not have to log into multiple systems to retrieve the information needed to address citizen questions. Integrating access streamlines the effort needed to get information to callers.
Online platform for collaboration — this builds a community among contact center staff and allows for sharing of best practices.
Security — agents will be handling sensitive and personal information and their systems need to meet all applicable compliance requirements.
Quality Management — think about how agent performance will be monitored and how to leverage this data to ensure KPIs are continually met.
Improving citizen service is more than just meeting a mandate, it is what our government was designed to do — serve the people. Thinking about the people, processes, and technology that need to be in place to efficiently meet this overarching mission of service to the citizen is critical in every agency. While the SBA showed that citizen service can ramp up in an emergency, maintaining continuity of operations is something that should be happening across government.
Jon Brown is vice president of client results at Liveops.